“I think that all my work is about lonely people making friends,” said director Harry Bradbeer (“Fleabag,” “Killing Eve”). “There is something very reassuring for women living in this world to see someone who has to cope on their own and somehow getting through. I find that very important in my work.”
That’s exactly what the audience will get to see in his newest project “Enola Holmes,” which starts streaming on Netflix on September 23: a brave young girl (Millie Bobby Brown)—Sherlock Holmes’ sister, by the way—who faces some big challenges by herself.
Harry said, “I heard an actress the other day talking about the way that cinema makes people feel less alone. The power of cinema comes when you meet yourself on the screen. And you see that what they’re going through, you are going through and if they can manage it you can so I think in that regard, it is inspiring. I hope it will be.”
We talked to Harry on Zoom about “Enola Holmes,” the feminist movement and shooting with green screens for the first time.
Why did you want to do this project?
I loved its freshness. I love to subvert genres, I like to take any genre really and find the heart in it and turn it on its head. I thought finding the heart in the adventure film, finding the politics in it was exciting. But the thing that I most loved about it was Enola, her character, or recklessness, and I felt that she was a fresh character to bring to the world. There are a lot of character films with young boys in them… and I love the way Jack (Thorne) had written the script that, with this girl, took us on a journey, and not only just went on a journey but she took us with her by talking to us directly. It was like she was grabbing the audience by the scruff of the neck and saying, “Come with me.”
How difficult was it to take a classic world and insert that feminist point of view?
I didn’t find it difficult. Particularly in a period when women’s rights aren’t attended to, when it’s tough for a young woman who wants to do something out of the norm, your background is perfect for a feminist take. One of the fun things is to make it funny. If you want to say something serious about feminism and human rights, it’s important to have humor in there to make you believe it, to make it human and not preachy. Underlying this whole film is a very serious message, that the future is up to us, it’s up to a woman if she’s going to stand on her own two feet. I think that was probably a challenge, to make that weave through the film and also to believe that this young woman who was being reckless was also vulnerable, that’s another important consideration. You have to make sure that people believe your character, that she’s not a superhero but she’s someone of flesh and blood.
What was it like casting Enola’s brothers?
Casting the brothers was a really exciting challenge. They had to be old enough to have not seen her in many years but not old as you couldn’t believe the mother could have had them all together. And I think with Sherlock I wanted a fresher look, someone we hadn’t seen before in that role. But I also wanted someone who could go on a real emotional journey, which other Sherlocks very deliberately don’t. Henry was an amazing choice for that. He was a surprising, but then really smart choice. He brought such warmth and humor. Sam Claflin, again, someone with contradictions. He’s very affable and very sweet, but he has this ability to be very reserved and unknowable. And so, again, that was a crucial element. When I’m casting I look more for characteristics than appearance. I look for the vibe they bring. And then for the head of the family Eudoria, Helena (Bonham Carter) was really easy. She was the first choice. I needed somebody that could have plausibly produced the most brilliant, but eccentric and dysfunctional children. And I knew that Helena could do that. And again, I met her and we talked about the part, and she had some wonderful ideas. It was her idea that she started the pipe tradition in the family, that she was the one who smoked the pipe when she was a child and that it was her pipe that Sherlock takes on to use. What I was looking for was a family that would feel that they belong together, but they were all very complicated, and that’s what I ended up with.
You’ve been taking projects that have gone on to become important pieces of art for the feminist movement. Do you think this story also falls in that tradition?
You know what I thought? I’m making this film for little Fleabags. Women came to me after watching “Fleabag” and said, “I feel, I feel acknowledged, I feel confirmed in who I am.” Those are some of the most moving experiences I’ve had, when people have come to me and said “Thank you for Fleabag. I’ve begun to accept myself.” It brings tears to my eyes and I think there are girls out there who are going to feel self-accepting through this film. She’s reckless, but well thought and wants to live her own life. And I love that. So I think it is very much in that world, and I’m very proud of it.
The other thing I’d say is that this gave us an opportunity to look at feminism, in its early days, because female suffrage was beginning from the 1840s to the 1880s so I love the opportunity to look at the early feminist movement and see how it developed. So I felt like that way it brought another dimension to my interest in feminist art.
People are already predicting that this is gonna become the next big franchise. Are you ready to direct the sequels?
I love to. I’d love to. If that happens that’s that would be amazing.
What it was like directing Millie Bobby Brown and also working with her as producer?
We got on immensely well, right from the start. I think we talked more actor to director than producer to director. But I was always interested in what she felt about the film, why it was important to her. Our initial conversation was about why she chose that book, and I wanted to know what was important to her about the work. And luckily we shared all those instincts, the same instinct. Working with her as an actor was a delight. She’s energetic, spontaneous and remarkably instinctive, which I love in actors. She’s very close to the moment, she doesn’t think too much or overthink a scene. And so she comes into it fresh and there always will be surprises. And the thing I most recall about her is her bravery. For someone who’s not a veteran, she’s quite a young person, she had such bravery whether she was having her head stuck in a bucket or doing fight sequences, over and over again, but also in her emotional bravery. She was prepared to take the character to moments of despair. She wasn’t afraid to show vulnerability, which I thought was very brave and mature and central to the character because someone who goes through what she goes through without pain is just a superhero which is not what Enola is, she’s a real person of flesh and blood.
This is your feature debut right? What’s the difference between directing a TV series and directing a feature film and were the challenges that you faced?
You have a lot more time to prepare. I think the fight sequences were far more elaborate than anything I had done before. And again, I was helped by my crew and amazing stunt arranger Jo McLaren. I find that fights in movies are often just one slug after another and all the escalation in a fight is about how bigger the explosion can be or whether you can fall out of a higher building, whereas what we try to do with the fights here was to make a story out of them. By intercutting scenes, we made sure that each escalation told you a little bit more about the character, and about her history and her past so you were learning things about her as the fight was going on. That was a real challenge to pull that off. And I’m excited about the way it turned out. I’m really pleased.
Why are you attracted to female-centric material? Is this a conscious conscious decision?
I don’t know why I really don’t. Which is probably why it’s really important to me. Some of the things that you do that really drive you are things that you can’t really put your finger on. For some reason, I relate very much to what women go through. And I’m fascinated by how people tick. I think it’s partly because I’m a very personal filmmaker, very emotional filmmaker and performance is at the heart of what I do and so many of the stories that come to me that deliver happen to be female stories. I think female writers are coming forward with characters that are emotionally resonant, and complicated, and is of course it’s very relevant to this time. And I can’t resist.
What message do you want the general public out of it especially during this time?
There’s a line in it which is “every vote counts.” Need I say more?